The Link Between Diabetes and The Pancreas
There are currently more than 34 million Americans living with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. While each of these individuals is unique in terms of the blood sugar highs and lows they experience and the personal diabetes treatment and lifestyle plan they have in place to control their diabetes, they do all share one thing in common.
Their diabetes is directly linked to the function of the pancreas.
The pancreas and its purpose
The pancreas is a vital organ located deep within your abdomen between your spine and your stomach. Its job is to produce enzymes and hormones that help the body effectively digest food. One of these hormones is insulin, which is critical to controlling the level of glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream.
The pancreas produces insulin because the cells of the body need this hormone to absorb glucose from the blood and transform it into energy. Think of insulin as the key to the front door to each one of your body’s cells. Without insulin, the doors stay locked and blood sugar can get into the cells to be used for energy.
So, when the pancreas is unable to produce insulin or doesn’t produce enough of it, the body can’t open those doors and allow the glucose into the cells. This sugar remains in the bloodstream and begins to build up, while at the same time the body is starved for energy.
Eventually, blood sugar elevates too high leading to hyperglycemia and a diabetes diagnosis. If left untreated hyperglycemia can quickly become life threatening. Additionally, untreated diabetes can lead to a host of related health complications, including heart disease, kidney failure, nerve damage and stroke.
The pancreas and diabetes types
Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes involve the pancreas and its ability to function properly. However, there are telltale differences between the two forms.
Type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition in which the body mistakenly attacks and destroys the beta cells of the pancreas in the same way it would fight off an infection. Beta cells live within the pancreas and are responsible for producing insulin. So, once they’ve been destroyed, the pancreas can no longer produce insulin. This quickly leads to a rise in blood sugar and the onset of Type 1 diabetes. We don’t know why the body makes this mistake in some people and not in others, however, genetic factors do play a role. If someone in your family has Type 1 diabetes, you’re more likely to develop it.
Type 1 diabetes usually develops in childhood or teenage years. It is not preventable, nor is it reversible. Because the pancreas in people with Type 1 diabetes is entirely unable to produce insulin, these individuals require regular insulin treatments in the form of injections by syringe or insulin pen, insulin pump, or new tubeless insulin patch devices such as the OmniPod system.
Type 2 diabetes
In those with Type 2 diabetes, the pancreas may still produce the hormone insulin, however, it might not produce enough to allow the body’s cells to effectively turn blood sugar into energy. Additionally, a person may develop what is called “insulin resistance”. This is an inability to effectively use the insulin the pancreas does produce, so that the body requires more of the hormone to control blood sugar.
When this happens, the pancreas goes into overdrive desperately trying to produce the greater amounts of insulin the body is demanding. Initially, the pancreas may be able to keep up, however, over time it will not keep pace with the body’s increasing demand for insulin and blood sugar begins to rise. This leads to a Type 2 diabetes diagnosis.
Type 2 diabetes represents 90 to 95% of all diabetes cases, making it overwhelmingly the most common form of the disease. It’s also the form of the disease that is directly related to lifestyle factors, including a poor diet, obesity, and a lack of physical activity.
Unlike Type 1 diabetes, Type 2 can often be managed with dietary and lifestyle changes. It can even be prevented if those at risk, identified as prediabetics, make these critical changes before diabetes develops.
However, once diagnosed, Type 2 diabetes is a lifelong condition that often requires insulin treatments or other medications, some of which are taken to stimulate the pancreas to produce more insulin.
Pancreatitis at Diabetes
Pancreatitis is a condition that causes inflammation in the pancreas. There are two primary types:
- Acute Pancreatitis, which comes on suddenly and lasts for a few days.
- Chronic Pancreatitis, which is a long-term condition with symptoms that come and go for several years.
- Symptoms of both types of pancreatitis include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Upper abdomen pain that can radiate toward the back.
- Pain that feels worse after eating
- Tenderness in the abdominal region
- A racing pulse.
While diabetes does not cause pancreatitis, people with Type 2 diabetes do have a higher risk. Additionally, chronic pancreatitis can eventually damage the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas, leading to the development of diabetes.
Pancreatic Cancer and Diabetes
There are a number of connections between diabetes and pancreatic cancers. For starters, if you’ve been living with diabetes for more than five years, it can increase your risk of developing pancreatic cancer, particularly if you have Type 2 diabetes. Statistics show that people with Type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to develop pancreatic cancer as those without the disease.
If you’re over the age of 50 and suddenly develop Type 2 diabetes, it may be a sign of pancreatic cancer. Conversely, if you are living with Type 2 diabetes but suddenly find it more difficult to control blood sugar following your normal blood sugar testing and treatment program, it might be a sign of pancreatic cancer.
Finally, though rare pancreatic cancer can cause Type 2 diabetes if the cancer advances enough to destroy the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas.
Every case of diabetes (more than 34 million and counting in America alone) involves the pancreas and its job to produce insulin. However, it’s also important to remember that everyone living with diabetes is unique and so is their disease. Having diabetes does not mean you’ll develop other problems related to your pancreas, just like having pancreatitis or pancreatic cancer doesn’t mean that a person will develop diabetes.
If you’re interested in learning more about the pancreas and its connection to your diabetes and individual treatment plan, talk with your endocrinologist and care team. In the meantime, as always, the best way you can prevent complications is to follow your doctor-prescribed diabetes treatment and care plan – test blood sugar regularly, administer medication as directed, eat right, get in 150 minutes of exercise each week, maintain a healthy weight and you’re on your way to living your best life.
We hope you found this post helpful. At Diabetic Warehouse, we’re committed to keeping you informed and helping you improve blood sugar control. Shop our online selection of diabetic supplies and equipment to find prices up to 65% less than local pharmacies and other suppliers.
Diabetic Warehouse is a trusted supplier of diabetes care products and accessories. For more information and to explore a complete range of products, including glucose meters and test strips, insulin syringes, pen needles, continuous glucose monitoring systems, and more, visit www.diabeticwarehouse.org.